Damn Tall Buildings made a fine headlining act at this season’s final OnStage! Show at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre last Saturday night. With their speedy, breakneck pacing, Damn Tall Buildings kicked all of their songs into high gear while displaying their highly skilled individual strengths and their highly disciplined ensemble work.
Coming on third at OnStage! presentation of Bluegrass And Beyond, this damn fine quartet opened their set with brisk fiddle playing, racing acoustic guitar melody, gritty banjo, and a plucky upright bass that kept the beat and laid out the low end support. Male vocalist Max Capistran sang with a voice full of grit and twang while playing his six string acoustic faster than a Tasmanian devil.
Capistran opened their second tune, “Evan,” with a bluesy 12 bar structure and some greasy guitar notes. Sassy belter Sasha Dubyk nailed the pace of the song and sang over her own plucky uptempo low end runs. Throw in a banjo solo from Jordan Alleman, and it swiftly turned into a kicking, rustic hoedown. The audience was visibly impressed with what they were seeing and hearing. When the band played “Steppin,’” from their latest live album, Good Enough, Dubyk showed herself to be a vocalist with a true depth, range, and richness, able to express a range of emotions with her voice.
Another of the band’s newer tunes, “Roll On, Buddy,” had more vocal twang and the quartet whipped up another speedy tempo while Dubyk’s knobby bass gave it all a platform to move around on, and they did. The instrumental portion was like a car zooming down the street, taking its corners up on two wheels. “Location” was a quiet, lonesome song with Avery “Montana” Ballotta ‘s chirpy vocal another treat for the ears, singing with his heart of his sleeve. The other three put lovely rustic textures around the picked and bowed fiddle melody Ballotta coaxed out of his axe.
“Angeline The Baker” found Dubyk singing as fast as the band can play with her bright, sunny timbre full of chirp over rapid rivulets of brittle notes. They could have made the entire audience dance a jig to this one. “Honey, I’m Coming Home” let Capistran slow it down and take it deep before bringing it up to a mid-tempo groove. Here, the bluegrass texture was thickly wove and it flowed forth with bright, shiny, sweet notes while the listener felt the song moving toward a favorite place.
The band brought things up to a mountain tempo with “Dead Man Need No Silver.” Hip motions built out of slappy guitar chords and a upright bass run let this song take one into its dark theme like one was on a river raft. Brisk, gritty banjo kept it in the country while forlorn, mournful fiddle work flavored it perfectly, deliciously with dark, foreboding tones.
Another original “You On My Mind” was a romantic charmer before Damn Tall Buildings closed out with the decades old bluegrass classic “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” which they played with freshness in their perky playing styles and their precise vocal harmonies.
Warming up for Damn Tall Buildings was the progressive folk trio Honeysuckle. Featuring banjo, acoustic guitar, and electric mandolin, vocalist Holly McGarry showcased one of those beautifully dry voices found in roots music, one that rose just above the brittle notes from the instruments, weaving a flag of texture and raising it in a fine mesh of acoustic notes.
During “Something Worthy Having,” which McGarry described as “a sad, angsty song about my hometown,” Chris “Gooch” Bloniarz pressed out his elegant electric mando notes which just sparkled alongside her golden voice. “Green Line” displayed McGarry’s wit as well as the trio’s sparkling acoustic notes, amazing all with how close they can come to pop with bright, shiny sounds.
Canary” captured the dark loneliness of coal miners who surely must feel isolated during their work shifts. McGarry’s light rasp helped conjure the images of the shadowy laborers in her song. Her considerate vocal phrasing was another plus as the trio brought the whole dire career to vivid life.
Electric mandolin player Chris “Gooch” Bloniarz later played his instrument like an electric lead guitar, drawing an intense whistling phrase.
Opening act was folk-rock soloist Aurora Birch. Birch played both electric and acoustic guitars with a nimble picking style that kept the melody sparse but full of feeling, depth, and strong enough to support her unearthly voice. She certainly captured and projected the forlorn emotions of her “Atomic Love.” One could feel an epic build up of feeling as her chords became louder in dynamics and thicker in texture as her voice contrasted by remaining in its steady hold.
It was another night of fine music at Chevalier’s OnStage! Concert Series. Sound man Jack Oliva utilized his dexterity to milk all of the detail out of those acoustic instruments and perfect voices. The performer ranged from moody and introspective to lively to outright foot stomping fun. A couple of Damn Fine Buildings’ bar scene fans showed up and turned their set into a real hootenanny with their enthusiastic responses to the music, reminding the listening room audience that the whole listening experience doesn’t have to be taken so damn seriously. It was a fun way to end this year’s concert series. One can only look forward to next year’s OnStage! Concert Series and hope they will gain an appreciation of that fine American form of music we call blues which they highlighted well at the end of last year’s series.